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Ranked ballots a possibility for 2018 election

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa voters could see some changes to the way they elect their councillors and mayor come the 2018 election.

As part of a provincial review, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is seeking feedback from municipalities and the public on reforms to the Municipal Elections Act.

“The purpose of the review is to determine whether reforms are needed to ensure the act works well and meets the needs of municipalities and electors,” says Conrad Spezowka, a spokesperson with the ministry. “The government will be looking at the Municipal Elections Act to help ensure rules are fair, clear and effectively enforceable.”

The high-profile item on the list of reforms is the possibility of allowing municipalities to use a ranked balloting system.

Premier Kathleen Wynee indicated in her mandate letter that part of the review would include working toward allowing municipalities the option of using a ranked ballot.

A switch to ranked balloting would move away from the “first-past-the-post” system, which sees the candidate with the most votes earning a seat.

Ranked balloting allows voters to choose their candidates by order of preference.

“In giving municipalities the option to use ranked ballot voting in municipal elections, the province is responding to direct requests from some municipalities, organizations and members of the public to provide an option for ranked ballots,” Spezowka says. “We want to allow more choice for municipalities in how municipal elections are run.”

Other potential changes being considered for campaign finance rules, regulation of third party advertising, challenges of making elections accessible and whether the municipal election rules are effectively enforced.

City staff are using the opportunity to put forward their own recommendations on possible reforms.

Jason McWilliam, the city’s manager of records and information systems, says he has met with his regional counterparts to come up with their thoughts on the act.

McWilliam says their main concerns exist around the introduction of ranked voting and says there are many questions that still need to be answered if municipalities were to begin using the new system.

“Our questions are really around what rules are going to be in place to allow us, as election administrators, to deliver that,” he says. “Certainly, there are some complications with the proposal as it deals with the election of upper-tier legislators.”

In particular, the regional chair, which became an elected position for the first time in 2014.

Voters from all municipalities in Durham are allowed to cast their vote for the region’s top legislator. However, McWilliam says issues may arise if some municipalities opt for the ranked ballot and others stick with the current system.

“If there was one municipality that chose not to use ranked voting…you have this one outlier. How do you deal with that particular situation?” McWilliam says.

Spezowka says that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs will take all the feedback received – the deadline for submission was July 27 – and will be forming them into recommendations.

“All of the comments and ideas we receive from the public consultations will be considered in the development of proposals to amend the legislation,” he says.

McWilliam says the feedback his group submitted asked for clarification on structure and specifically looking at how the new system would work.

“There hasn’t been a whole lot of direction from the province in terms of how they want to see ranked voting work,” he says. “So there’s kind of this great big black hole and we don’t know what’s going into it, or coming out of it.”

According to Spezowka, any potential changes to the act will be in place by the end of this year.

“It is important to have any changes to the act in place well before the 2018 municipal elections to allow municipalities sufficient time to prepare for any changes that come out of the review,” he says.

While McWilliam says he doesn’t have a preference for which system Oshawa decides to use, if the option becomes available, he says the ranked balloting system has a potential for a heavier workload for staff.

Along with changes to the way Internet voting and other forms of accessible voting are carried out, a ranked balloting system involves much more manual counting from staff, especially if an elected position includes numerous candidates.

And numerous candidates seem to be a theme in Oshawa.

In the last election, six candidates vied for the regional chair position, nine for the mayor’s spot, 22 for the regional councillor positions and 18 for city council.

“We actually have to do, manually, all of the vote distribution calculations to figure out who the winner is going to be after the ranked voting stuff plays out,” McWilliam says of determining the results after votes are cast and before they are fed into the tabulator machine that electronically counts the votes. “So for that reason, it’s a lot more time intensive.”

Along with the review of the Elections Act, the province announced on June 5 they are also undertaking integrated reviews of the other key pieces of municipal legislation, the Municipal Act and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

The deadline for comment on these reviews is set for Oct. 31. For more information, visit the ministry website at http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page11144.aspx